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Breweries step up their game, offer an alternative to wine tours

Rochester Business Journal
July 27, 2012

The wine tour remains a classic activity for many tourists but fails to reach the overwhelming percentage of beer drinkers in America, say owners of a growing number of microbreweries.
 
"When I was doing research to build the winery, the statistics were that out of the U.S. population of people that actually consume alcohol, only 26 percent of them drank wine," says David Mansfield, a co-owner of Three Brothers Wineries & Estates LLC.
 
"You go, 'Wow, there are a lot of beer drinkers out there.' It makes a great addition to the winery, but the overwhelming majority of people that consume alcohol are basically beer drinkers."
 
The numbers showed Mansfield that people are looking for things to do beyond a wine tour. In combining a winery and microbrewery, Three Brothers likes to believe it is a one-stop shopping tourist attraction for wine and beer drinkers alike.
 
Three Brothers has entered an industry that appears to be growing. According to the Brewers Association, a national organization based in Boulder, Colo., there were 1,989 breweries operating in 2011, with at least 250 brewery openings. The organization estimates that craft brewers account for 9.1 percent of the total U.S. beer retail market. Small brewers employed at least 103,585 people in 2011.
 
The Brewers Association defines a small craft brewer as an establishment that produces 6 million barrels or less annually. Microbreweries in Rochester and the surrounding Finger Lakes fit these criteria and are finding success.
 
Being able to help the economy within the city of Rochester is important to Chris Spinelli, co-founder of Roc Brewing Co. on Union Street. As opposed to the Finger Lakes wineries that bring tourism to the region, places like Roc Brewing Co. attract visitors to downtown Rochester.
 
"The biggest issue the wineries have is the best place to set up a winery is outside, away from the public, and people have to make a day trip of it," Spinelli says. "Breweries are focusing in on the cities and areas of population where it's easier to get to them and still do things the rest of the day."
 
Choosing a brewery tour over a wine tour might benefit tourists in other ways. Many breweries have chosen not to charge for tours and request a modest sum for tastings.
 
"A lot of brewers just like to talk about beer and talk about what they do, so it's not really fair to charge people for that," Spinelli says. "We'll just get them to buy the beer."
 
Being a brewer can be demanding; responding to the market's palate for new and exciting types of beer is a necessary part of the process. The Brewers Association describes craft brewers as artists whose canvases are painted with the ingredients they use and the processes they employ. These brewers either create beer along style guidelines that define lagers and ales by their aroma, flavor, bitterness, alcohol range and color, or they find their own style.
 
What makes a trip to the brewery different is experiencing the process, says Geoff Dale, co-owner of Three Heads Brewing.
 
"Overall it's the whole experience of getting to see the process from start to finish, and you really get a good understanding of how it's all made," he says.
 
Dale expects to open both a production facility and a tasting room for Three Heads Brewing in the next two years. Until then, he hopes to further establish his West Coast-influenced beer and keep educating people on the brewing process.
 
"You can just come in and drink, but you also get a lot more of the educational side of it. And honestly, everyone drinks beer; not everyone drinks wine," Dale says.
 
Also feeding the growth of breweries is the emergence of the contract brewer. Mike Alcorn, owner of CB's Brewing Co. in Honeoye Falls, supplies many local restaurants and pubs with craft beers and also is responsible for providing Three Brothers Wineries & Estates and Three Heads Brewing with their own craft beer.
 
The production and tasting occur at CB's Brewing.
 
"We custom brew beers for local restaurants and taverns, and we even custom brew some beer for several wineries," Alcorn says. "They're obviously picking up on the fact that this is a good addition to what they have to offer."
 
CB's Brewing Co. focuses on attracting new crowds looking to do something new and exciting. Like many breweries, CB Brewing uses social media and word of mouth to get exposure.
 
"Although the wineries have different wines, different people and different surroundings, they start to feel very similar," Alcorn says. "CB's tours are free and sampling is inexpensive, so you get a chance on a very tight budget to enjoy yourself, whether it's as a couple or a family, since we offer root beer as well."
 
For those looking beyond microbrewery and winery tours there is micro-distilling. For the portion of alcohol drinkers in America who prefer hard liquor, these distilleries provide a new experience.
 
Brian McKenzie, president of Finger Lakes Distilling, has found that his distillery location along the wine trail has worked in his favor.
 
"I think it's nice to incorporate a visit to the distillery while you're out enjoying wines; it's a unique stop," McKenzie says. "A lot of people that enjoy wine like to sample our spirits, and then there's a lot of people whose spouses may not care for wine and just want to try something different."
 
Finger Lakes Distilling offers tours and tastings for people from all over the world. McKenzie believes its location in the Finger Lakes region makes it a nice weekend getaway for visitors from areas like New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C.
 
More than half of Finger Lakes Distilling's revenue comes from tourism and people buying the product directly. The business works closely with residents by sourcing ingredients from local farms, promoting tourism and adding industrial-type jobs to the area.
 
"We want to continue to try to make it a great experience for people to come see us," McKenzie says. "We do a lot of education for our customers, because there's a lot to it and we take a lot of pride in sharing that knowledge with them."
 
Roc Brewing's Spinelli also sees the impact of brewers on the economy.
 
"Genesee Brewing Co. adds 100 new jobs every time they put out a new bottle, and that's key to Rochester's success," Spinelli says. "We're adding on at least one new person this year, and there were four new breweries that opened up last year.
 
"If you think about it in that sense, each one of them added at least three new jobs. It really does help the economy."

Chloe Farmer is a Rochester Business Journal intern.7/27/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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